BRODEUR: Danbury’s Lawlor an everyman NFL agent
Picture an NFL agent. What do you see?
Smartphone glued to each palm for `round-the-clock wheeling and dealing?
Or maybe you went Jerry Maguire — a cartoonish portrayal (even by Tom Cruise standards) of the extra mile-type? The little guy willing to show his player the money even if it drains him of everything?
Now think about Pat Peterson, All-American cornerback, Louisiana State. The No. 5 overall pick in April’s NFL Draft who experts lauded as a No. 1 talent, a surefire shutdown corner for the Arizona Cardinals once the if-and-when of the league’s lockout saga runs its course.
Surely Peterson’s got one of those characters in his corner, right?
Well, not exactly. There’s one more picture to paint — last one, I promise — in what was every bit the journey for agent as it was for high-profile client.
“My brother’s the spitting image of Boomer Esiason,” Danbury’s Jim Lawlor said last week of younger brother, Pat, a 49-year-old civil litigation attorney living in Boca Raton, Fla., whose one and only NFL client is the 20-year-old Peterson.
Chuckling, he added, “probably at least 10 people came up to him during draft week, `Hey, Boomer!'”
Being a dead ringer for a four-time Pro Bowl quarterback doesn’t exactly qualify Pat Lawlor as the people’s agent, but his Danbury roots, his affable nature, and the struggles he endured to stand atop the famed Radio City Music Hall stage last month are certainly worthy of the bill.
And as such, Lawlor is out to debunk the seedy stigma surrounding the job in our heads.
“I want to change it,” Lawlor said last week. “I had (LSU coach) Les Miles tell me, `You’re a little different than the agents I’ve been around.’ I want to change that attitude about agents. It’s not about us; It’s about the players and their families.”
Let’s wind back the clock to well before the Cardinals were on it, preparing to make two dreams come true with one phone call.
Lawlor, a 25-year veteran of triathlons, was one of six boys born to a Danbury family that was appropriately sports-crazy. He played golf at Danbury High before departing for Tampa, Fla., where he first expressed an interest in law and, eventually, sports law. After a year at theUniversity of Tampa, Lawlor transferred to the University of South Florida, where he completed his undergraduate degree and stuck around to receive a master’s degree in public administration before finally completing his law degree at Nova Southeastern in Fort Lauderdale in 1989.
Landing in what he calls “football heaven,” Lawlor immediately took to the youth sports scene, as well as local charity golf events (where he rubbed shoulders with Sunshine State royalty likeDan Marino) while simultaneously juggling a foray into a life that always intrigued him — that of an NFL agent.
For a host of reasons, however, be it stricter regulations from the NFLPA, mounting costs and a young family to raise, Lawlor called it quits in 2006. He’d logged around seven years, represented a handful of clients from his alma mater or the surrounding area — none of which were of Peterson’s stature — and had seen what he thought was enough of the industry.
“It was really with no intention of getting back into it,” Lawlor said. “I loved it, but unless you can devote 100 percent of your time, it’s difficult getting to know these kids.”
That was always Lawlor’s philosophy, whether he was in the courtroom or on the trail of a player. And it’s one he feels isn’t practiced enough.
“I had had a bad taste in my mouth for some of the agents I saw,” Lawlor said. “It always seemed they were more interested in themselves than the players and their families.
“I always felt the way I would approach representing my clients in the law practice was (the same as athletes),” he added. “It’s about what’s best for the athlete and their family in the long term.”
But Lawlor had his own long term to think about, and he honestly didn’t believe he’d revisit his NFL dreams.
Family members noticed the toll his first go-around took.
“It’s a cliche but he’s kind of the Jerry Maguire type,” said Jim Lawlor, a former PGA professional who, along with 20-year-old son, Cory, a football player at WestConn, attended the draft with his brother.
“My brother will give you the shirt off his back. And that’s what he did with the other guys he represented and it sort of came back to bite him. But you live and learn.”
After several years away, Peterson’s arrival at nearby Ely High — an NFL factory of sorts — instantly stoked Lawlor’s passion. Peterson’s high school coach had played in a charity golf tournament with Lawlor, offering up the familiar “you’ve got to see this kid.”
What Lawlor saw at a playoff game blew him away.
“He was a man amongst boys,” Lawlor recalled. “He was the best high school football player I’d seen and I’d been going to high school football games for 20 odd years.”
Next, Lawlor — in keeping with his own virtuous approach to the agent game — had to be patient. He would watch Peterson play almost from the shadows, finally introducing himself — and announcing his intentions as a prospective agent — when NCAA rules permitted him to near the end of Peterson’s junior season.
Lawlor saw beyond Peterson’s extraordinary gifts to what he felt were the attributes of an extraordinary person. The work ethic instilled by Peterson’s father, Patrick Sr., who has groomed him since he was a toddler, along with some impressive NFL lineage (Peterson is cousins with current NFL players Bryant McFadden, Sinorice Moss and Santana Moss) were clearly visible.
And so, Lawlor threw his hat back in the ring. In doing so, he went toe-to-toe with the Rosenhauses of the world, who had all circled Peterson like any other top prospect in one of the country’s most searing football hotbeds. With one last push from his wife, Sally, Lawlor made his pitch.
“I said, `here’s the situation: you know who I am, you’ve researched me, you’re the only young man that I’m going after, the only person I want to represent. You’ve got the choice of going with these larger firms that represent 50-100 guys, or you can have me and my undivided attention to you and your family.'”
The Petersons were quickly sold and so began the whirlwind, a nonstop tour of appearances, workouts and interviews that spanned coast-to-coast, franchise-to-franchise.
And if the buzz on YouTube — not for player but for agent — is any indication, Lawlor enjoyed every minute of the ride.
If that old clip of Rosenhaus and T.O. (shot at a 2005 press conference over Owens’ bitter departure from the Philadelphia Eagles) has come to best illustrate the celebrity agent’s cutthroat persona, a recent viral shot the night before the NFL combine is equally indicative of who Lawlor is. If you’ve got a goofy dad, you already sort of know him. But Sean, 14, and Catherine, 7, are now painfully aware of their father’s ability to rap the opening verse of Vanilla Ice’s “Ice, Ice, Baby” word-for-word.
“My family cracked up at it,” Lawlor said of the video, shot during a late-night workout Peterson personally called for.
“My wife knows I tend to memorize lyrics, especially rap from the old days. And (rapping them) is who I am. People down here know me. I’m a very carefree kind of guy. I have a good time.”
Much more cherished to the Lawlor’s is the footage of Pat on the stage with Peterson, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and a brand new Arizona Cardinals jersey.
“I had my whole family there,” Lawlor said. “They know what I’ve gone through.”
And they know this could be just the beginning.
“We were really happy for Pat,” Jim Lawlor said. “This is something he’s always wanted to do. And now other athletes are going to come and seek him.”
It won’t be hard to find him. Just look for the guy who looks like Boomer Esiason, raps like Vanilla Ice and puts players and families first.
Contact Chris Brodeur at email@example.com or 203-731-3378. Follow him on Twitter @BrodeurDNT.